The following two news items do not seem to be related, but the same theme lurks under the surface. The United States government is systematically dismantling the most important track people have out of poverty into economic freedom: the right to trade their labor and goods for money. If the news items are ridiculous, this merely demonstrates the ridiculous lengths to which government will go to crush the entrepreneurial spirit.
The government knows that the power to make money is the source of freedom. To exercise freedom of speech, you must first be able to feed yourself. And money-making requires nothing so much as property rights.
News item #1: A magician named Marty Hahne has been grappling with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for years now. At issue? During his act, Hahne pulls a three-pound rabbit out of a top hat. He updated the situation as of late June, “My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist. I just received an 8-page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc.” Hahne and his wife must be specially trained to implement the rabbit plan, which USDA inspectors will review. Supporters of the magician suggest the plan should consist of a tag attached to the rabbit’s collar which reads, “In case of disaster, kill, cook, eat.”
News Item #2: The Preserve the Waters of the US Act is currently before the Senate as a move to block new regulations finalized in 2012 by the Environment Protection Agency. The new regulations define ditches, gullies and other property features that catch water as part of America’s navigable waterways under the Clean Water Act. The government’s quest to control the flow of water on people’s property is nothing new; in June 2012, an Oregon man was sentenced to 30 days and fined over $1500 for collecting rainwater in three reservoirs on his land even though the reservoirs did not interfere with other water rights. But the new regulations would expand the EPA’s federal muscle into backyards, farms and factories across the nation. They would become the de facto owner of people’s ditches and gullies.
[Editor’s Note: These are the kinds of fascistic outrages you won’t have to worry about in Galt’s Gulch, Chile.]
There are the seemingly laughable regulations: the Florida law requiring vending machines to sport labels that urge people to report if the label is not present; or, the three regulations buried in the Obamacare health bill that dictate the treatment of burns from flaming water-skis. Then, there are the regulations that directly cripple people’s ability to use their bodies and property to feed themselves and their children.
The Lemonade Freedom group knows that the ridiculous regulations need to be taken seriously. In August 2011, the group set up a lemonade stand on public land in DC and proceeded to sell lemonade for 10 cents a glass. It was done to protest a wave of police actions in state after state to close down children’s lemonade stands because they were unlicensed. Lemonade Freedom declared, “The lemonade stand is one of the great symbols of entrepreneurialism. When a child opens a lemonade stand, that child is learning how to operate a business, how to provide a product, and how to be a productive member of society all while having fun.”
In 2011, ten police officers descended on the DC lemonade stand. They closed down the operation, they arrested and handcuffed three people, and attacked a camera man. Again, the justification was the lack of a license. In 2012, mothers and sellers of raw milk joined Lemonade Freedom Day in protest of regulation and to celebrate “right to voluntary exchange.” The police were prudently absent.
The right to voluntary exchange is the right to life itself because it gives people the ability to feed themselves, and this is the basis of all other freedoms.
One of my favorite quotations from literature comes from childhood. In Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, the character Jo reads aloud from a short story she has written: “And the good fairy said, I won’t leave you money or pretty dresses but I will leave you the spirit to seek your fortune from your own efforts.”
You need more than the spirit of entrepreneurship to succeed, however. You need the ability to peacefully use what is yours for profit; you need to use your body and the products of your labor, which are extensions of your body.
It is common to break rights into the two broad categories of civil liberties (or human rights) and economic ones. The two types of rights are then set in conflict with each other. Civil liberties are said to be threatened by the exercise of private property rights in the marketplace. For example, minorities are said to suffer discrimination whenever employers are able to spend their own money to hire whomever they chose. Preserving the alleged human right against discrimination requires the government to intervene and forbid business owners to use and dispose of their own property at their own discretion. But what is being claimed are not rights but entitlements.
Overwhelmingly, the justification for regulating the economic sphere is this: without regulation, it is claimed, civil liberties and the public good (another term for entitlement or faux civil liberties) will be devastated.
This a false, created conflict.
There is no such thing as the public good beyond what nurtures the essential building block of “the public”; that is, the individual. Destroy the individual and you have destroyed society. There is no collective good. Under government regulation, there are only benefits that are ripped away from some and redistributed to others. Both parties have equal claim to being “the public” but only one benefits while the other is plundered.
There is no conflict between human and economic rights. They are not merely indivisible, they are also identical in their source. Both derive from the right to peacefully use your own body and to use everything you produce. If there is a any distinction to be made between human and economic rights, it is this: economic rights come first. In his book The Ethics of Liberty, the Austrian economist Murray Rothbard wrote, “The key to the theory of liberty is the establishment of the rights of private property, for each individual’s justified sphere of free action can only be set forth if his rights of property are analyzed and established.”
Traditional civil liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion ultimately rest on an individual’s ability to exercise the right of economic ownership over his or her own body. To attack economic rights is to attack civil liberties. And it is not funny when police with guns close down a 4-year-old’s lemonade stand. It is damned frightening.